Coronavirus (COVID-19) and epilepsy

Scroll down for the answers to frequently asked questions on Epilepsy and COVID-19

Coronavirus FAQs

Virtual groups - a great way of connecting with others who have experiences of epilepsy, in a safe and relaxed environment.

Virtual groups

People with epilepsy are included in priority group 6 of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.

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Last reviewed 10 March 2022

Does having epilepsy put me at increased risk from coronavirus?

Some research suggests people with epilepsy could have a slightly increased risk of getting seriously ill or dying from coronavirus. Because of this increased risk, people with epilepsy aged 16-64 were invited to receive the COVID-19 vaccine earlier than people without underlying health conditions. Children with epilepsy aged 5 and over are also being offered at least 2 doses of the vaccine.

Research by Public Health England shows that vaccination against COVID-19 is highly effective in people with underlying health conditions. So if you are fully vaccinated you should have a high level of protection from getting ill with COVID-19. But no vaccine offers complete protection, so it's still important to follow the general guidance to help keep yourself and others safe. This includes meeting people outside or opening windows to let fresh air in if you meet indoors, wearing a face covering in crowded places and washing your hands regularly.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe for people with epilepsy?

The Association of British Neurologists says all COVID-19 vaccines are safe for people with neurological conditions such as epilepsy. The COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the UK have met the strict safety standards set by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA). So far, millions of people have received a COVID-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects have been very rare.

We know that some people with epilepsy are worried about having a seizure after getting the vaccine. The MHRA monitors the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines, including any reports of seizures. They have confirmed to us that they haven't found any link between COVID-19 vaccines and seizures, or an increase in seizures after vaccination in people with epilepsy.

Like other vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines can cause a high temperature (fever) for some people. Not everyone will get this side effect, but if you do, it should go away after 2 days. For some people with epilepsy, fever can make them more likely to have a seizure. If you are concerned about fever, the International League Against Epilepsy says that taking a fever-reducing medicine such as paracetamol for 48 hours after you have the vaccine reduces the risk. For most people, the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 infection far outweighs the risk of side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine.

The MHRA has more information about the vaccines approved for use in the UK.

You can report suspected side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines on the Yellow Card website

Will the COVID-19 vaccine affect my epilepsy medicines?

COVID-19 vaccines are not expected to interact with epilepsy medicines. This means the vaccine should not affect how your medicines work, and your medicines should not affect the vaccine.

How can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

There are different arrangements for getting the vaccine, depending on your age, which part of the UK you live in and whether you are getting your first, second or booster dose. For more information about how to get the vaccine, visit the website for the place where you live:

England
Northern Ireland
Scotland
Wales

Many areas also have drop-in vaccination clinics. Check your local council or health board website for details.

How many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine should I or my child get?

These are the current recommended vaccine doses for adults and children with epilepsy in the UK.

Adults aged 18 or over

All adults aged 18 or over should get:

  • A 1st and 2nd dose, at least 8 weeks apart
  • A booster dose, at least 3 months after the 2nd dose

People with epilepsy aged 16 and 17

People in this group should get:

  • A 1st and 2nd dose, at least 8 weeks apart
  • A booster dose, at least 3 months after the 2nd dose

Children with epilepsy aged 12 to 15

Children in this group should get:

  • A 1st and 2nd dose, at least 8 weeks apart
  • A booster dose, at least 3 months after the 2nd dose

Children with epilepsy aged 5 to 11

Children in this group should get:

  • A 1st and 2nd dose (at a lower dose than standard) at least 8 weeks apart

Extra dose for people with a weakened immune system

A small number of people with epilepsy may have a weakened immune system because of another health condition they have. If this applies to you, you may be offered an extra dose of vaccine, called a third primary dose. If you or your child are eligible for an extra dose because of a weakened immune system, your doctor will write to you to let you know.

If I catch coronavirus could it trigger a seizure?

Some people with epilepsy are more likely to have a seizure when they are unwell, particularly if they have an illness with a high temperature (fever). Fever is a symptom of coronavirus, so this could trigger seizures for some people with epilepsy.

The best way to protect yourself from having a seizure is to keep taking your epilepsy medicine as usual throughout any illness. If you do get a fever, the NHS says you can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help bring your temperature down. Both are safe for most people with epilepsy, but check with your pharmacist that they don't interact with your epilepsy medicine.

For most people with epilepsy, a seizure is not a medical emergency and does not need hospital treatment. However, if you are at risk of status epilepticus, make sure you have an up-to-date emergency care plan from your epilepsy specialist. This should tell you and the people around you what to do if you have a seizure and when to call an ambulance.

Are covid treatments safe for people with epilepsy?

The NHS is offering antibody and antiviral treatments to people with COVID-19 who are at highest risk of becoming seriously ill. In general, people with epilepsy are not eligible for these treatments, but you may be offered them if you have another health condition that puts you at high risk.

One of these treatments, called Paxlovid, is not suitable for people taking the epilepsy medicines carbamazepine, clonazepam, diazepam, midazolam, phenobarbital or phenytoin. Taking any of these medicines with Paxlovid could cause serious side effects or affect how Paxlovid works. Paxlovid may also reduce levels of lamotrigine in the blood, so should be used with caution in people taking this medicine.

Another treatment, called Veklury, can affect the way midazolam works. The manufacturer advises you should wait 2 hours after having Veklury before taking midazolam.

There's no evidence that other COVID-19 treatments currently offered by the NHS interact with epilepsy medicines. But it's important to tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking if they are prescribing you any new medicine. They will check for any interactions.

Are face coverings (face masks) safe for people with epilepsy?

Most people with epilepsy can safely wear simple cloth face coverings. A face covering made of breathable material should not cause any harm if someone is wearing one during a seizure.

Some people have told us they are worried about face coverings making it harder to breathe or making them overheat. There is no evidence that this is a problem with the type of face coverings recommended for the general public, made of breathable material.

If you find that wearing a face covering makes you feel uncomfortable or anxious, it’s worth trying different ones to find one that’s right for you. The gov.uk website has advice about what counts as a face covering. You could also try wearing a face covering for short periods of time at home first, to get used to the way it feels.

If you have other conditions as well as epilepsy and are worried these may affect your ability to wear a face covering, you may wish to check with your doctor. Or you could get advice from a charity that specialises in your medical condition.

Do I have to wear a face covering?

In some parts of the UK, face coverings are required by law in many indoor spaces, such as shops and on public transport. You can find out more about the different rules on the government websites:

England
Northern Ireland
Scotland
Wales

Evidence shows that wearing a face covering may help stop the spread of coronavirus to others. So it’s important to wear one if you can.

There are some exemptions to the rules. For example, you do not have to wear a face covering if doing so would cause you severe distress. If you are unable to wear a face covering there is no requirement to prove you are exempt. But if you would prefer to show something, the gov.uk website has printable exemption cards.

I’m worried about catching coronavirus at work but my employer says I have to go in. What can I do?

Depending on the part of the UK you live in and the type of work you do, your employer may be able to ask you to come to work. 

Your employer should take steps to protect all their employees at work and make sure your workplace is safe. The different governments of the UK have each issued guidance on working during the coronavirus pandemic:
England

Northern Ireland
Scotland

Wales

Your employer should tell you what steps they are taking to keep you safe at work. If you don’t feel safe being at work, talk to your employer about your concerns. In some cases, they may be able to help you work from home or make other reasonable adjustments. If you don’t feel they are doing enough to make the workplace safe, you can report this to your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive.

ACAS can give advice about your rights at work. They also have information about coronavirus and work on their website.

Do epilepsy medicines stop the immune system working well?

Standard medicines used to treat seizures, known as anti-epileptic drugs, do not suppress the immune system.

A small number of people who have epilepsy as part of a syndrome or other medical condition, may be prescribed medicines that can weaken the immune system. These include steroids and everolimus, a medicine taken by some people with tuberous sclerosis complex. If you are taking these medicines, speak to your doctor for advice.

How can I get support while self-isolating?

For up-to-date information about the rules on when to self-isolate, visit the NHS website. If you need to self-isolate, there are a number of options for getting support.

Getting food and medicine

While self-isolating, if possible you should arrange for food and medicine to be delivered to you, or ask friends, family or neighbours to collect it for you. Check with your local pharmacy if they offer a medicine delivery service. If you usually collect your prescriptions from your doctor's surgery, you could ask if they can be sent electronically to a pharmacy of your choice instead.

If you need help getting food or prescriptions while self-isolating, here are some sources of help:

Keeping in touch

If you live alone, keep in regular contact with friends, family members or neighbours while self-isolating. You could ask them to contact you regularly by phone or text to check you are ok. This is especially important if you have uncontrolled seizures.

Look after your emotional wellbeing

You may be feeling anxious about coronavirus or your epilepsy. Our information on wellbeing may help. You can also find information about looking after your wellbeing and coping with anxiety related to coronavirus from Mind and Anxiety UK.

Neuropsychologists Professor Gus Baker and Professor Steven Kemp have written an article on surviving the COVID-19 pandemic from a psychological perspective.

Coronavirus - our support for you

Epilepsy health services and COVID-19

Code: 
F161.36

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr Rhys Thomas, Honorary Consultant in Epilepsy and Intermediate Clinical Fellow at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, for his contribution to this information.

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